Ding ding ding (sound of bells), big announcement: The New Persian Kitchen is available for pre-sale! Yep, my new book lands in bookstores on April 16, but you can order it now online. It’s a collection of over 75 recipes, some of which are classic Iranian dishes, while others are new and delicious creations inspired by this ancient cuisine. You can read more about the book in the very first review in Publishers Weekly.
While writing the book, I read as much as I could about Iranian culture and history. Because most Americans only know about Iranians from unflattering stories in the news, I wanted to introduce readers to Iranian culture as well as its cuisine. I read a lot about Persian poetry, spiritual traditions, history, politics, and popular culture. If you could have seen my desk up until last week, when I finally cleaned it, half of it was taken up by three fat stacks of Persian cookbooks, poetry books, histories, and memoirs. These books helped me immensely in putting modern Iran in context. Here is a selection of some of my favorite books:
I adore this book. It’s an account of travels through Iran by an award winning English travel writer. Over the course of a couple of years, he crisscrosses the country, hanging out with all kinds of Iranians, and visiting historic sites. This book purposefully avoids the subject of politics, a refreshing change, which leaves the author free to devote his attention to the rich culture and history of this part of the world. Here he gives his observations on ancient and modern culture, and artistic traditions, specifically architecture. Elliot is a master of language, and the book is often hilarious. One of my favorite passages is where he recounts all the excuses that Iranian cab drivers use to rip him off. Elliot seems to have a deep affection for the Iranian people, with all their quirks and complexities.
This is a beautifully written account of the author’s move from Iran to the United States as a teenager, and her journey from being a traditional Iranian daughter to a world-class chef with her own restaurant. Much of the story revolves around the author’s mother, an extraordinary woman who deftly makes the transition from one culture to another, despite the challenges. I fell in love with her mother, who with her progressive outlook on women’s rights and her magical ability with food inspires the author to follow her dream of becoming a chef. Warning: This book may make you cry, but in that wonderfully bittersweet and healing way.
I happened to receive this book from the author’s nephew, who is a friend. The book is released by the author’s own publishing company, so it’s not widely publicized, but it’s well worth seeking out. The author goes to Iran in the 1970′s on an archaeological dig, and falls in love with the people in the tiny village where she’s stationed. She overcomes cultural barriers and becomes like family with the natives, learning to fluently speak the local dialect and adopting the customs. The book is full of minute anthropological observations about small-town Iranian life that I found fascinating. The book is much more than a recounting of facts, but a humane and affectionate look at a hidden world. The book gives a bravely honest assessment of life in Iran at the time, as well as the author’s own life journey.
I almost didn’t read this book because I found the author’s prior book about Iran so offensive and confusingly narrated. For a sense of what I mean, read the Amazon reviews. Happily, this book has none of the problems of the author’s earlier work. As the title suggests, the story does not have a happy ending. Mossadegh was Iran’s Prime Minister and a beloved hero. His lifelong struggle was to take his country back from British control and nationalize the Iranian oil industry. At the same time, he was battling the systemic corruption of the Iranian monarchy and government. The author does a masterful job of portraying Mossadegh’s inimitable character — neurotic, dramatic, brilliant, and honest to a fault — while explaining the complex history that led to his rise and fall.
This is a memoir by noted humorist Firoozeh Dumas, about moving with her family to Southern California from Iran when she was seven. When her family makes the move, they have no clue about American culture, and likewise the community they enter has no understanding of Iranian culture, and thus hilarity ensues. I love this book because it makes me laugh, and because it affectionately sends up the very same cultural conflicts that I observed growing up. Dumas has a gift for humor. Check out her Op-Ed in the LA Times on why we need an Iranian family sitcom, or even this post on her website about moving to Germany this year. I promise she’ll bring a smile to your face.
There are a lot of great books about Iran, both old and new — and I’m trying to read them all! If you have any suggestions, let me know.